An essay by Pete Ashman, Written from 6th December 2007 to 11th February 2008.
First published on PeteAshman.net on 23rd February 2008.
The following short essay attempts to address what I believe are some fundamental problems underlying the political and democratic system of the UK. While much of what I say can be applied to what is in many aspects a similar system in the USA, it is the political system of the UK with which I am primarily concerned and of which I am writing about. Namely that of a 2 party system, or a system that is composed chiefly of 2 political parties; where a 3rd party is seen by the majority of voters and politicians alike, as being unlikely to ever reach the possibility of becoming elected as the ruling party. Thus the country is in the hands of politicians who are permanently at war with each other.
The conservative party have admitted that they would have followed similar steps to those taken by the current Labour administration, namely the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq by UK armed forces. Thus, regardless of the opinion of the electorate, whichever of the two major parties were in power, the UK was fated to send it's troops into these countries.
Despite the biggest protests ever seen in the UK by UK citizens, many of whom voters, the UK government agreed to go to war with the US and a number of other chiefly political allies. Thus the UK's involvement in Iraq was due to a failure of democracy, or of the democratic system we had and, at the time of writing, still have in the UK.
Your agreement on the last sentence in that last paragraph, will depend almost entirely on your interpretation of the word democracy. A word which played the supporting actress role to the word freedom in several key speeches by George W Bush and Tony Blair during their courting of the world's media, politicians, and population, in the months leading up to the most recent Iraq invasion. Both of those words, however, were rarely - if ever, defined, despite, in the case of the word freedom at least, having many possible and wide ranging interpretations and definitions.
Does the word democracy not mean, a society which is ordered based on the judgements and opinions on those living in it? It is clear that, according to the actions of the current government under it's former prime minister, it does not mean this. It instead means that every citizen aged 18 and upwards (reduced from 21 in 1969) is free to vote at local and general elections for a candidate to represent their interests. Most electoral candidates belong to a particular political party, and whichever political party has the most elected candidates in a general election is agreed to be the ruling party in the country for the next 4 or 5 years. The leader of this party becomes prime minister and along with his or her chosen cabinet (consisting of other elected candidates but only those of the same party), they dictate the policies of the country, what is illegal and what is not, the country's involvement in wars, and so on. It appears this ruling party has no obligation to act in accordance with how most people in the country feel, or to give heed to public opinion expressed through protests and petitions - actions which are among a decreasing number of legal ways people have to express themselves collectively or otherwise.
At the time of writing, It is illegal to protest within one kilometre of Parliament Square without written permission from the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines democracy as follows:
• noun (pl. democracies) 1 a form of government in which the people have a voice in the exercise of power, typically through elected representatives. 2 a state governed in such a way. 3 control of a group by the majority of its members.
The word originates from the Medieval Latin democratia (13c.), coming in turn from the Greek demokratia, which is formed from the greek words demos (‘common people’) and kratia (‘power, rule’).
The word in most modern european languages still contains the root demo, in Norwegian for example, the word is demokrati, though the word folkestyre is also still used in this language to give the same meaning.
It is clear that any connection to the original meaning and etymology of the word has become severed within the modern governments of the UK and the USA. Should the efforts of these two countries to spread this treasured "democracy" to other countries, not be preceded by a definition of democracy? Should we not have a democracy that reflects the meaning of that word, and connects to the interpretation of that word by the populace?
For it is within this blurred meaning that a government with a litigious mindset can get away with almost anything it wants. Government has in many ways, become an army of defense lawyers, taking a course of action defined by themselves and justified by pointing to clause x, statistic y and so on. The only violence which is legal is that taken by the government employed organisations of the armed forces and police respectively.
When one adds to this state of affairs, the additional truth of the sheer power money itself has within politics, within this so-called democracy, one sees the hideous landscape that is modern politics. Take for instance, the amount of money one needs to run for a seat in the house of commons in the UK, or a seat in the senate in the USA. While it is not an easily defined figure, it is clear that it lies beyond the reach of the common man.
To get an idea of just how much money runs things in modern politics, just glance at the costs of becoming President of the USA. A campaign to win a presidential primary can cost from $50 million to $100 million upwards, regardless of whether you win or not. Then there is the campaign to become president. The Bush-Cheney ticket in 2000, for example, spent $186 million campaigning - and they still didn't get the most votes!
That’s of course another story, although very much connected with what I writing about here. It in fact highlights the battle that is almost inherent to the 2 party system – that of getting power and keeping power - at any cost. Though educated men, politicians under this system are reduced to military exercise, playing a game of the ‘keep the flag’ or ‘keep the base’. Power is the object, either obtaining or keeping, and democracy – carrying out the interests of the public – becomes secondary.
While duality is prevalent throughout life and the world around us, it should not have an inherent existence within a democratic system that seeks to unite people and power in harmony. It is this dichotomy of two party politics, of government and opposition, that is a crippling factor of UK politics and which hinders positive change. The idea that everything is either left or right and we should have an eternal game of tug-o-war in an attempt to settle it is ridiculous.
Consider the layout of the house of commons. One side the government with it's leader in the center, the other side the main opposition party with the opposition leader in the center. Third parties and independents placed seemingly in no particular place. Immediately you have a situation that invites confrontation between the two major parties. We have all seen footage of conservative and labour MPs on the front benches attempting to mock and undermine the opposite party with gestures and facial expressions. This is the behaviour of immature children and is plainly embarrassing. Go to a debate at a high school or college around the country, and more often than not you will find silence when one person is talking, people listening and respecting the process enough not to drown out him or her that is speaking. But go to the building where critical decisions on the future of the country are taking place by elected representatives of the people, and you will often find the reverse to be true - grown men and women hollering and groaning loudly - as if by their doing so they undermine any truth or opinion that may be being expressed at the time.
The issue is clearly deeper than the layout of the house of commons chamber; this merely helps both illustrate and encourage a rivalry between the two leading parties.
There are public houses - social drinking establishments throughout the land - that are labour clubs or conservative clubs or liberal clubs - but there is not a chain of drinking establishments that encourages debate and democratic progress for all peoples regardless of a political party they may or may not be a member of or may or may not have an affinity with. Not one, at least, with such ties to the current political system as the aforementioned clubs.
If democracy in this country is to progress, if positive change is to happen, we must rise above this dichotomy. We must accept that common values are held by peoples of differing parties. We must allow decisions to be made by all elected representatives, and not place such an exaggerated power in the hands of the party that is elected by however small a majority. We must encourage a culture where same principles and policies can be held by peoples and politicians of differing parties - not foster the idea that a party is policy stealing if it happens to believe in a common idea. We must move the emphasis from party to policy, and ultimately from party to people, if we are ever to implement a democracy in the truest sense of the word.
Ultimately, the establishment of power held by the leading two political parties needs to be destroyed, along with the current costly bureaucratic system which does more to hinder democracy than to further it's cause.
A Demokracy is needed - a stripping away of bureaucracy that seeks to oust the common man from political decision making. If a government is not serving the people, it is the people's right to form a new government - that is, afterall, the sole purpose of government.
If police forces wish to join this new government, there doing so will stop vigilante law becoming common place whilst this happens. If military leaders of the UK's armed forces wish to join this new people's government, the current illegal and undemocratic wars - or at least the UK's involvement in them - can be ceased.
"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."
- John F. Kennedy, 1962